Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the most recent information on ownership of the faulty pipe.

By Judy Bird

“My initial reaction when I saw it was sadness. It looked awful,” said Chief Connie Big Eagle of the Ocean Man First Nation, referring to when she first went to the site of the oil spill.

Chief Big Eagle was at a meeting in Yorkton last Friday when she received word that there was an oil spill on the First Nation’s land.

The oil spill was discovered by band member Clint Big Eagle, the Chief said.

“He has spent most of his career working in the oil industry and he recognized that odour in the air and it was concerning him. He took it upon himself to go look where this was coming from. Lucky for us and the oil company, he located it and took a picture of it,” said Chief Big Eagle.

“It was very helpful in our case that one of our band members had the care to go do that. We have lots of band members who have made their career in the oil industry, and we have lots of band members who still work in the oil industry,” she said.

Getting to the site wasn’t as easy as driving up to it, she added.

“He couldn’t get in because the snow was blocking the old road that led to it so he drove around the field as far as he could and from there he got out and walked and found it in trees that were surrounding a slough. He took a picture of it and forwarded it to one of our council members, who forwarded the information to me,” Chief Big Eagle said.

She immediately contacted Tundra Energy Marketing Ltd, one of three oil companies that have pipelines running through the First Nation, because she had the company’s contact information readily available. The pipeline flow was shut down, and within hours, clean up had begun.

Chief Big Eagle visited the site on Saturday, and was impressed at how quickly they had operations underway.

“There was a clean up crew out there that had already removed snow to access the site, they had a little temporary village set up as their headquarters where they work out of and equipment was being brought in. People have been working night and day to clean it up since we alerted them to the spill,” she said.

Chief Big Eagle said she is getting regular updates and reports on progress. Federal and provincial environmental consultants are on site, as are regulators and representatives from INAC.  “At this point, the company is telling us that the slough was dried out, but we have no way of knowing it at this time. They put an orange snow fence around the perimeter to prevent wildlife from trying to access the area and then it’s surrounded by trees so there is some vegetation that has been affected so that will have to be removed as well.”

It is not known how long the pipeline was leaking, nor at first, which one company own the faulty pipeline. On Tuesday, Minister of Energy and Resources Dustin Duncan stated that there are several pipes that intersect in that area and it will only become known which company owns the pipe after the pipe has been excavated. “We don’t know for sure if it is the company that’s been identified although they have taken the lead in terms of the spill clean up,” he said.

Late Wednesday, Treaty 4 News received notification confirming that the source of the breach is a Tundra line.  Purging of that line began, and if all goes well, the line will be cut and removed as soon as Thursday, January 26th.

“Some of those pipelines have been there for decades,” said Chief Big Eagle. “They were put in before the philosophy of nation to nation consultation ever existed. There are some pipelines we had nothing to do with having them put under there but we’re kind of getting the bad end of it now.”

While she is saddened about the spill, she is also keeping it in perspective, and encouraging people to do the same.

“We’re trying to make sure that it’s not sensationalized, that it’s not blown out of proportion, that it’s not exaggerated. We all think that it’s a bad thing that happened, but we don’t want people going out there for safety reasons, and we don’t want the clean up disrupted. We’re trying to make sure that all people who deal with this situation are able to do their job properly,” she said.

“We wish it had never happened – that would be ideal, but there are factors that contribute to it being not as bad as it could have been. One is that it is winter time. If it was spring run off, it could be much worse than it is. Also the area that the spill took place, that slough acted as a natural containment so it didn’t spread further.”

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